ASPINALL, John Audley Frederick   [1851-1937]

John Audley Frederick Aspinall was one of the leading railway engineers of his day, the designer of several locomotives and a president of both the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Civil Engineers.

He was born in Liverpool on 25th August 1851, the son of a judge, John Bridge Aspinall QC and his wife Bertha Wyatt (née Jee). His father served as recorder of Liverpool and at the time of his birth the family lived at 22 Oxford Street L7. They later moved to Rupert Place in Everton L6 and then 47 Bedford Street South L8 (both now demolished).

The Aspinalls were one of the city’s prominent Catholic families. In the late 18th and early 19th century they were active participants in the slave trade. Their ship, the Zong, was involved in a famous legal action of the early 1780s which arose when ‘hundreds’ of enslaved people were thrown overboard when the ship ran short of drinking water. It says much about the times that the legal proceedings were concerned with whether or not the owners could claim losses from the insurers, the murdered slaves being treated as property.

After attending the catholic boarding school, Beaumont College, in Berkshire John Aspinall was apprenticed to a form of railway engineers. In 1875 he became the works manager for the Great Southern and Western Railway of Ireland, being promoted to Locomotive Superintendent in 1883. He returned to England in 1886 as the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, becoming general manager in 1899, a post he held until 1919. In 1904 he oversaw the completion of the electrification of the Liverpool-Southport line, one of earliest such schemes in the country.

He was knighted in 1919, the year in which he became a consulting engineer to the newly formed Ministry of Transport. He was very active in promoting sound education for young engineers, founding the Horwich Mechanics’ Institute in 1889 and serving as associate professor of railway engineering at the University of Liverpool, where he also acted as chairman of the faculty of engineering from 1908 to 1915.

From the late 1890s until he moved south, Aspinall lived in a grand red-brick mansion named Gledhill, at 1 Mossley Hill Drive L17 which still stands at the junction with Greenbank Drive.

Aspinall married Gertrude Helen Schräder on 2 September 1874. They had three daughters and a son, John Bridge Aspinall who became a judge. He died ay his home, Deerstead House, Woking on 19th January 1937 aged 85.

22 Oxford Street L7

The Aspinall family home at the time of his birth.

Gledhill, 1 Mossley Hill Drive L17

Aspinall's grand Liverpool home in the early 20th century.


There is a comprehensive entry for Aspinall in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry gives a general account of his career. there is infortmation about the Aspinall family involvement in the slave trade on the website of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery.